Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Role of the Manager

From Harvey recently:

Sparking employee spirit is every manager's job

I recently saw the movie "New In Town," which really drove home the point of employee spirit and morale. The timing of the release of this film is pretty interesting, given the current events in American businesses.

Lucy Hill, played by Renee Zellweger, is an ambitious, up-and-coming executive living in Miami. She is offered a temporary assignment to restructure a manufacturing plant in Minnesota, and in the heart of winter. Lucy has a life-changing experience when she gets to know many of the hard-working people, including the union representative, played by Harry Connick Jr.

When her corporate bosses order her to shut down the factory, Lucy is torn between her boss's request and the feelings she has developed for the employees. She takes matters into her own hands and asks employees to take a gamble to re-engineer the plant and start producing a new, more popular product. It will mean long days and no overtime pay, but the employees get behind her. And their hard work and spirit is rewarded in the end.

Happy endings are not always guaranteed in business situations. News everyday proves that. Many companies are facing uncertain times, and workers can tell you how that affects morale, and eventually, results.

March is Employee Spirit Month, a time to inspire the most vital asset of any organization: its employees. It's more important than ever in these hard economic times to boost employee morale and spirit.

Supervisors and managers should do everything in their power to try and improve employee morale and spirit. But it really starts with the individual. Each and every one of us should also make sure that our attitudes are positive. After all, attitudes are often as important as aptitudes.

Our performance depends on our attitude. It's just common sense that when people are not happy doing what they do, they don't do it as well. On the other hand, employee performance is unlimited when they truly like what they are doing and feel appreciated.

We all meet grumpy people that complain about everything. Don't let them get to you. Their behavior should never dictate your actions. Attitudes can be caught and taught. Remain positive. Looking on the bright side never causes eyestrain. It may not be your fault for being down, but it definitely is your fault for not getting up.

Harvard psychologist William James said: "The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes of mind."

My feeling is that this practice can extend to companies. A positive company culture should start at the top. It's always best for management to be honest and upfront with its workforce. And it makes sense to solicit their suggestions and input. Including employees in problem-solving also helps promote cooperation, which leads to better spirit. Why wouldn't a manager listen to the people who have such a vested interest in fixing things?

Victor Frankl, a prisoner during the Holocaust, made a lasting impression on me. I heard him speak many years ago. In his book, "Man's Search for Meaning," he talks about enduring many hardships. However, Dr. Frankl chose to exist in a world he created in his mind. His positive attitude in those painful years sustained him because he believed that life is 10 percent what happens to us and 90 percent of how we respond to it.

Author Glenn Van Ekeren tells the story of two young women working in a community hospital who decided to quit their jobs. They were tired of dealing with ungrateful, complaining patients, back-biting between employees and an apathetic administration. Just before quitting, though, these two women decided to try an experiment. They resolved, just for the fun of it, to bend over backwards for everyone they encountered on their last day of work.

No matter how someone looked at them, talked to them or treated them, they overwhelmed people with encouragement, courtesy and appreciation. Before long, an amazing transformation took place. Patients didn't seem so miserable, staff even smiled at each other and the administration seemed surprisingly interested in their affairs.

Results like this are possible at any company. I give plenty of credit to these employees for making changes on their own, but I'd really like to know that their supervisors set the standard for their actions and inspired their employees to shine on the cloudiest days.

Mackay's Moral: A positive employee spirit can keep your company from becoming a ghost town.

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